Tag Archives: cube

5 things I learned from The Power of Three

1. The Power of Ninety (miles a second, so it’s reckoned)

The Doctor’s heartfelt speech to Amy offering perspective on ‘one corner of one country in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of the galaxy that’s a corner of the universe that is forever growing… ‘ as they sat looking at the stars reminded me very much of Eric Idle’s lovely song in Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life.

2. The Power of Pertwee

I really liked this story and the way it balanced a vibe reaching back through various Torchwood scenarios to the feel of the global invasions in Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who all the way back to the nostalgic glow of the Pertwee era. Mind you I mean the good Pertwee era of my childhood imagination – the one based on the Target novelisations and what we were told by the guidebooks and magazines, where everything was cosy and action-packed at the same time and it felt like a family – before the videos started coming out and it turned out the Third Doctor was really just a horrible thankless old bully.

3. The Power of other mobile networks are available apart from Three

4. The Power of KIRSty

Implacable cubes make great enemies, from Dungeons & Dragons‘ Gelatinous Cubes to the Borg, the world of the film Cube and those remorseless advancing blocks in the old PlayStation game Kurushi. There’s something about geometric perfection that inspires unease, even when they’re not blaring out The Birdie Song. And I wouldn’t go so far as to ask Is Doctor Who’s The Power of Three a Shot-For-Shot Remake of Hellraiser?, but you know –

There’s this girl who can make the cubes work

And the wall in the hospital turns into a dimensional portal

And the cube reconfigures itself on its own

And who the FUCK’s this?

– and this is all very welcome to me.

5. The Power of Poultry

Could they be alien eggs? asks Brian. Oh Brian. If only they were.


But they didn’t answer my question!

With some spoilers for the endings of Lost, Cube and The Prisoner, but also, sort of, no spoilers at all.

I like ambiguous endings. I like getting the chance to think over what I’ve seen and come up with my own interpretation. A lot of people don’t. Sometimes they’ve got a point: when a plot’s supposed to make sense but fails because it’s too messy, complicated or badly thought-out, for instance. But a lot of plots aren’t supposed to make sense, not exactly. Sometimes authors credit us with the intelligence to enjoy what we’ve just seen on a different level: thematic, allegorical or whatever. And man does it make a lot of people angry.

And I am telling you, I'm not going

I felt sorry for people who hadn’t seen Lost in years but tuned in for the final episode in order to see all their questions answered. The most popular questions — what is the island? why are they all there? what’s that smoke monster? will they ever get home? what about that polar bear? — had already been answered, at least a year previously, and the series finale concentrated on tying up the fates of the remaining characters while resolving the mystery of the ‘sideways world’ that had been introduced in the final season.

But a lot of people found the answers to the big questions unsatisfying, because they were woolly. The island was real, but its nature was pure fairytale: a magic glowing light in a cave made everything we’d seen possible, an ancient evil was bound to the island by certain complicated rules of engagement, a saintly figure had been influencing the characters’ lives and observing them from a hidden lighthouse full of scrying mirrors…

For people looking for concrete, scientific explanations, “the island was magic so there” was hard to accept. But I find it satisfying, because it allowed (in retrospect!) for the show’s central big idea — could you be a better person, if you lost all your baggage and started again? — to be played out in an arena that really did work as an allegorical one.

You can see why a show that deliberately spent years setting up and resolving a series of insanely complicated, interlinked plots and questions might be expected to cater to its more literal-minded fans at the end. On the other hand, the classic The Prisoner ran for less than six months in the late 60s and still attracted similar levels of feverish outrage with its baffling last episode.

From my homie, to my only.

Patrick McGoohan was even less concerned than Lost creators Lindelof & Cuse with answering viewers’ questions, and final episode Fall Out is an onslaught of imagery, ideas and insanity that deliberately defies literal explanation. Does Number 6 get home from his allegorical arena? Well he appears to, but just like Jack and Kate in Lost, he’d already been back at least once only to find that his true home was The Village.

But unlike in Lost, the very final moments on the doorstep feature a moment — just a sound cue, really (I AM TRYING NOT TO BE TOO SPOILERY), — which makes it especially clear that Number 6’s freedom or imprisonment is entirely symbolic, and nothing we’ve seen in the last seventeen episodes should be treated as though it ‘really happened’. In the fictional sense of things really having happened, of course. The big questions turn out to be the ones about the role of the individual in an oppressive society, and the prisons we make for ourselves, rather than anything mundane about what the butler was up to or whether Alexis Kanner would have slept with us.

Now if TV and film viewers find allegorical conclusions hard to swallow, especially if, as in The Prisoner, it’s sprung on them as a bit of a surprise at the end, wouldn’t the ideal solution be a show or film in which the whole point throughout is that there isn’t going to be a literal explanation? And I’m not talking about the arthouse, I’m talking about something that might appeal to a popular audience.

The square root of 69 is 8-something?

Which brings us to Cube, a 1997 Canadian horror film which didn’t do too badly commercially even though it’s an unapologetic existential parable. The basic premise is the same as Lost’s and The Prisoner’s: characters awake somewhere strange and new with its own set of devious rules, and divorced from their previous lives they face the best and worst of their own natures.

But as the characters negotiate the deadly traps in the Cube, it becomes very clear that they’re in a fictional space. Someone may know someone who, say, designed the Cube’s door handles, but no-one planned the whole thing and no-one’s in overall control of it: this huge impossible monolith is just a metaphor for the cruelly faceless processes we’re all subjected to in the world. Kafka’s often cited in positive reviews of the film.

So it makes me happy that a film so blatantly abstract and symbolic should have found success, if only modestly. OBVIOUSLY there are sequels which proceed to demystify it and make things literal, to the point where the final film starts with two men in a room pushing buttons to operate the Cube’s traps and ends with an almighty retcon. But the original film stands for me as the best example yet of a piece of mainstream entertainment that tells its audience that sometimes, things don’t have to have a perfectly literal explanation.